Domestic violence and family law

Domestic violence is legally defined in Washington state at (a) physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or the infliction of fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury or assault, between a family or household members; (b) sexual assault of one family or household member by another; or (c) stalking as defined by statute (RCW 9A.46.110) of one family or household member by another family or household member. RCW 26.50.010(1). Domestic violence is also manifested as psychological harm.

An alleged victim of domestic violence can obtain a temporary Order of Protection, which will require a civil hearing after a certain number of days. Notice must be served on the defendant. Conditions are not standard, but usually include “no contact” by touching, voice, writing, e-mail or phone with the named victim – even if the victim invites it, and to stay away from the victim’s home, employment, school or daycare / school of the victim’s children. Also available is the sexual assault protection order under RCW 7.90.005.

The operable question often turns on what the court interprets as “the infliction of fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury or assault.” This is a very subjective standard, and can be used in some instances unscrupulously by an accuser to obtain an advantage prior to a divorce proceeding to gain control of children and property.

In contrast, the definition of “domestic violence” in psychological terms, sometimes referred to as “intimate partner violence,” is differentiated with respect to partner dynamics, context, and consequences. The four patterns of domestic violence in psychological terms are identified as:

1) Coercive Controlling Violence (relationship-wide pattern of power, coercion and control);

(2) Violent Resistance (immediate reaction to an assault that is intended primarily to protect oneself or others from injury);

(3) Situational Couple Violence (most common type of physical aggression resulting from situations or arguments between partners that escalate on occasion into physical violence); and

(4) Separation-Instigated Violence (violence which is instigated by the abandoned partner after the other partner separates).

Since the law does not recognize these psychological distinctions, someone who engages in a one-time altercation with a partner may be treated the same as a perpetrator of a long standing coercive controlling relationship. This can have wide ramifications on residential time with children, employment, use of property, among many other factors.

It is important to seek immediate assistance from an attorney if you find yourself involved in a domestic violence situation.